by Heidi Kortman -
Another three steps, and the pacing corps of graduates left the confines of the tunnel, scattering across the great gallery to greet those who had come. Douay Bede blinked. A cluster of chatting people dispersed, and there she stood with her all-weather at her feet.
He wanted to run, but one fruit of the Spirit was self-control. Douay Bede compromised by taking the longest steps his black robe would allow. She wore the coppery headdress of folded thoric leaves that she always saved for special occasions. Perspiration dripped from her chin.
“Mother,” Douay Bede called as he drew closer. She didn’t give him the smile he expected. “What’s the matter?”
“Take him now, son. Quickly.” She moved her all-weather, which covered a large, perforated metal box, their quarr carrier. “Your father trapped him on the west range two days ago. The kit has already tasted spider eggs, and he’s about to have his growth spurt.”
“Oh, Mother.” No wonder she was tense. Depending on how many eggs the quarr kit had eaten, the growth spurt could be astonishingly quick. He’d witnessed it on the last day of a summer in his fifth Founding, while his name was still Ruben.
Wandering along a trail on the east range his family worked for the Palmer Corporation, he had heard a musical sound, and wanted to know its source. Rounding an outcrop of basalt, he found his way blocked by the gray-streaked hindquarters of a scaled beast whose forequarters were busy displacing ash and pumice.
“Striper,” he’d said, “what are you quarrying for?” The beast continued to work. He’d stayed, watching and repeating the name.
Down in the valley, the buz herd had sent up ticks of contentment as the buzy grazed. A six-winged seraph locust flew past, taking his attention from the scaled beast. When he focused on Striper again, the beast’s haunches were more than twice as large. The layered ash above the creature’s head was cracking, tumbling down.
It backed out of the hole and shook ashy webs from its tufted ears. Eight vividly ringed legs protruded between its jaws. One swipe of its tongue took them in.
“Striper, you’re eating a tunnel spider.” So that was why his father’s herds were doing so well on this range. The beast made a strumming sound, and pounced on prey Ruben hadn’t seen. He heard a carapace crack. Then the beast brought an oozing carcass and dropped it at his feet.
He fled. The beast followed at his heels, in a steady pumice-crunching trot. When the drop-off to his right made his heart pound, he expected to be knocked from the trail into thin air.
A bump on his right hip drove him up against the cliffside. Striper had walked the very edge, keeping pace with his increasingly wobbly steps. The beast’s squarish body and muscular legs blocked him from the precipice.
“Remember how you screamed the day Striper followed me home?” Douay Bede looked into his mother’s face. That brought a smile.
“Not for long, not after he pounced on that pink stripe spider so near to little Tabitha, but go, son, go.”
His cousin hadn’t been able to say quarrier, so Striper was soon dubbed a quarr. Douay Bede grabbed the handles of the box and jogged against the general pattern of traffic flow. He had to be alone in a closed room with the kit. If the quarr wasn’t domesticated before the growth spurt hit, it would be a menace. The nearest hope of private, secure space was his former cell.
“You do remember,” she panted as she followed him toward the tunnel.
“Yes, Mother.” Before he came to the Abbey, he’d taught her to domesticate. She could have kept this kit herself. “Please, wait out here.” The box in his hands wasn’t any heavier; now if only the path ahead stayed clear. He picked up his pace, hindered by the skirts of his robe. Lord, let me get there, he prayed, as his sandals skidded on the floor. The kit poked one serrated center claw through a ventilation hole.
Douay Bede ducked into his old cell. He set the box down, then slid the door panel closed. Time for the first step in domestication.